Sending in the troops is only stage one as Brazil battles Amazon wildfires

By Tom Parmenter, news correspondent, in Brazil

It was only after the wrath of world leaders was unleashed on Friday that the Brazilian president responded with meaningful action.
Initially, Jair Bolsonaro denied the very existence of the fires – and since then, Brazilians have listened to days of arguments about who had started them.

Now President Jair Bolsonaro has authorised the mobilisation of 43,000 troops to try and put them out.

Image: There have been tens of thousands of fires in the Amazon this year so far
Many of the military personnel are already based in the region, but all are now available for firefighting duties.
The emergency effort has been sanctioned for at least the next month. Six states – Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso have all asked for help.

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Mr Bolsonaro is an outspoken right-wing leader who only assumed office in January. His style does win support with some, but he is also deeply unpopular with others.

This crisis means protests against him are growing. “We’re going back towards a military dictatorship,” one man told us as we filmed in Sao Paulo.

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He may not admit it, but the president has been scorned by the accusation that he is to blame for the wildfires. Critics point to his environmental budget cuts and the way he has advocated “responsible exploitation” of the Amazon region.
The stern rebukes from European leaders and the withdrawal of funding by some countries from environmental projects in Brazil have prompted the military action.

Image: Maintaining the Amazon is vital for the world’s climate change goals
Mr Bolsonaro wants to be seen as taking charge of what he has described as “chaos”, but sending in Brazilian troops is only stage one.
Chile and Ecuador have pledged resources, US President Donald Trump has offered American support and the president’s ministers have said they are open to further international help.
It may well be needed: this is one of the hardest places on earth to fight wildfires – remote dense rainforest where civilisation and the rule of law are often hundreds of miles away.
Right now, it is impossible to tell what will be lost in the time it takes to try and extinguish the flames. Indigenous people and a truly amazing diversity of wildlife and plants share this natural habitat.

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Environmentalists say the evidence shows this crisis is manmade – some fires may have been started accidentally but many will have been deliberately set.
Clearing land like this is illegal in Brazil, but it means opening up farmland that can then be exploited. The rainforest’s natural function of storing carbon and creating oxygen is a brilliant balancing act of nature – we all need to breathe – but it doesn’t make any money.
Regardless of the financial gains to be had through from clearing the rainforest, there is also a PR game at play here. One of his ministers said on Saturday: “President Bolsonaro’s concern is evident.”

It is certainly becoming more evident.
Nobody though wants to be the person who killed the rainforest. The president knows that and it’s one of the reasons why he’s acting.

Source : Sky News